Tag Archives: North Korea

North Korea’s Credible Threat to Destroy U.S., Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its review of the EMP threat from North Korea. 

A Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency report, which concentrated on cyber attacks but could also apply to EMP, has noted that America’s electrical grid and associated control systems are vulnerable to various forms of attack.  Since the late 1990’s…cost pressures have driven the integration of conventional information technologies into these independent industrial control systems, resulting in a grid that is increasingly vulnerable to cyber-attack, either through direct connection to the Internet or via direct interfaces to utility IT systems…”

A Daily Mail article  warns that “North Korea could be preparing an EMP strike on the US with two satellites already orbiting above America [with] two…earth observation satellites, launched in 2012 and 2016Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security in America, warned that North Korea is positioning its satellites in a ‘nuclear missile age, cyberage version’ of battleship diplomacy ‘so that they can always have one of them (satellites) very close to being over the United States or over the United States’. Pry, also chief of staff of the Congressional EMP Commission, told Breitbart‘s Aaron Klein: ‘Then if a crisis comes up and if we decide to attack North Korea, Kim Jong Un can threaten our president and say, ‘Well, don’t do that because we are going to burn your whole country down.’ Which is basically what he said.

The Pew Trust notes that “Congress has commissioned reports and held hearings over the years on bills focused on protecting the grid from such catastrophic disturbances, but it hasn’t taken any action. So a number of state legislators have decided to file their own grid-related measures, and in some cases, the legislation has been adopted. ‘This is an area in which we are extremely vulnerable. It’s a real problem. What if the power doesn’t come back on?’ said Virginia Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves, who sponsored a measure that passed last year mandating a legislative commission to study the issue and come up with ways to protect against such threats.”

While there have been numerous warnings and concerns, very little action has actually been taken. A General Accounting Office  study notes: “Since 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have taken actions such as establishing industry standards and federal guidelines, and completing EMP-related research reports. GAO found that their actions aligned with some of the EMP Commission recommendations related to the electric grid. For example, DHS developed EMP protection guidelines to help federal agencies and industry identify options for safeguarding critical communication equipment and control systems from an EMP attack. Further, agency actions and EMP Commission recommendations generally align with DHS and DOE critical infrastructure responsibilities, such as assessing risks and identifying key assets…

“DHS has not identified internal roles and responsibilities for addressing electromagnetic risks, which has led to limited awareness of related activities within the department and reduced opportunity for coordination with external partners…Within DHS, there is recognition that space weather and power grid failure are significant risk events, which DHS officials have determined pose great risk to the security of the nation. Better collection of risk inputs, including additional leveraging of information available from stakeholders, could help to further inform DHS assessment of these risks. DHS and DOE also did not report taking any actions to identify critical electrical infrastructure assets, as called for in the National Infrastructure Protection Plan. Although FERC conducted a related effort in 2013, DHS and DOE were not involved and have unique knowledge and expertise that could be utilized to better ensure that key assets are adequately identified and all applicable elements of criticality are considered. Finally, DHS and DOE, in conjunction with industry, have not established a coordinated approach to identifying and implementing key risk management activities to address EMP risks.”

Recognition of the long-standing lack of action resulted in an Executive Order issued by President Trump four days after his inauguration, which provides an expedited process for “crucial infrastructure projects.”  The Order specifically notes: “it is the policy of the executive branch to streamline and expedite, in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the Nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid…”

North Korea’s Credible Threat to Destroy U.S.

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government examines North Korea’s claim that it could devastate the U.S. 

There may be substance behind North Korea’s boast that it could devastate the United States.

Some of Pyongyang’s claims are obviously exaggerated.  Kim’s statement that he has “an invincible army” is not credible, although he does have sufficient artillery to devastate a good portion of adjacent South Korea.

However, its nuclear prowess is a true force to be reckoned with.  North Korea potentially has, or will soon have, nuclear-weapons mounted submarine launched missiles, as well as mobile land launchers.  This makes it doubtful that a preemptive strike against the rogue nation could be completely successful. Unfortunately,  even just one atomic detonation at the right position could cause massive damage to America, in the form of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) wave.

Secure the Grid  defines EMP as “An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) is a super-energetic radio wave that can destroy, damage, or cause the malfunction of electronic systems by overloading their circuits. Harmless to people but catastrophic to our critical infrastructure critical infrastructures–electric power, telecommunications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water–that sustain modern civilization and the lives of 310 million Americans. Given the current state of U.S. unpreparedness for an EMP event, it is estimated that within 12 months of an EMP event, two-thirds to 90 percent of the U.S. population would likely perish from starvation, disease, and societal breakdown.”

It’s not just defense officials who have expressed concern. The National Governors’ Association  states that “The electrical power grid is the backbone of the U.S. economy and society, with most goods and services depending on its safe, secure and reliable operation. Increasingly, natural and human-made hazards pose risks to the grid, some of which could lead to lasting and widespread outages. Although improbable, such disruptions would have a substantial effect and result in the failure of other critical infrastructure sectors such as water, transportation, financial services and communications; endanger the health and well-being of the public; and lead to considerable economic losses.”

Similarly, the National Conference of State Legislatures  reports that “ At least 15 bills were introduced in 2015 that address the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, and at least five bills exempt critical information about the grid and public utilities from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Some experts believe that North Korea is on the verge of having the missile capability of striking the American mainland. Many are convinced that it can already target Hawaii.

Interestingly, Hawaii has already accidentally endured a limited EMP effect, from a nuclear detonation 850 miles away. A Fox News article describes what occurred: “On July 9, 1962, Hawaii was hit by a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, which within minutes took down the state’s communications systems and traffic lights —  virtually everything that ran on electricity. Th …U.S. government had set off a 1.4-megaton nuclear warhead at a height of 248 miles above Johnston Atoll…The test caused radio disruptions in Hawaii, California, and Alaska, and knocked out six satellites above the Pacific…This is not theoretical. It has already happened,”

The U.S. EMP Commission  notes: “Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated EMP. A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication. EMP is one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences. EMP will cover the wide geographic region within line of sight to the nuclear weapon. It has the capability to produce significant damage to critical infrastructures and thus to the very fabric of US society, as well as to the ability of the United States and Western nations to project influence and military power. The common element that can produce such an impact from EMP is primarily electronics, so pervasive in all aspects of our society and military, coupled through critical infrastructures. Our vulnerability is increasing daily as our use of and dependence on electronics continues to grow. The impact of EMP is asymmetric in relation to potential protagonists who are not as dependent on modern electronics. The current vulnerability of our critical infrastructures can both invite and reward attack if not corrected. Correction is feasible and well within the Nation’s means and resources to accomplish.”

The Report concludes tomorrow.

Dangers, Stakes of North Korean Confrontation, Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its examination of the dangers and stakes in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

In April, The Arms Control Association noted that:

“For years, the United States and the international community have tried to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology. Those efforts have been replete with periods of crisis, stalemate, and tentative progress towards denuclearization, and North Korea has long been a key challenge for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

“The United States has pursued a variety of policy responses to the proliferation challenges posed by North Korea, including military cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, wide-ranging sanctions, and non-proliferation mechanisms such as export controls. The United States also engaged in two major diplomatic initiatives in which North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons efforts in return for aid.

“In 1994, faced with North Korea’s announced intent to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear weapon states to forswear the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Under this agreement, Pyongyang committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid. Following the collapse of this agreement in 2002, North Korea claimed that it had withdrawn from the NPT in January 2003 and once again began operating its nuclear facilities.

“The second major diplomatic effort were the Six-Party Talks initiated in August of 2003 which involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. In between periods of stalemate and crisis, those talks arrived at critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement. Those talks, however, broke down in 2009 following disagreements over verification and an internationally condemned North Korea rocket launch. Pyongyang has since stated that it would never return to the talks and is no longer bound by their agreements. The other five parties state that they remain committed to the talks, and have called for Pyongyang to recommit to its 2005 denuclearization pledge.”

North Korea is also strongly suspected of proliferating its missile and nuclear technology, particularly to Iran. South Korea’s Yonhap  news agency reported that “ Officials from a North Korean firm on a U.N. sanction list over its suspected arms trade visited Iran earlier this month after the U.N. Security Council imposed tougher punitive measures on the firm, a source said Monday. The Korea Mining Development Trading Corp. (KOMID), known as North Korea’s primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons, has been sanctioned by the U.S. and the United Nations since 2009. Ranking officials from the company visited Iran on March 6, which has been long suspected of maintaining ties with North Korea over nuclear and missile programs, according to a source familiar to North Korean affairs. Tehran has denied such speculation.”

A 2010 United Nations report stated that North Korea had exported nuclear and missile technology to both Iran and Syria. A Syrian nuclear plant was said to be based on North Korean blueprints.

As North Korea continues to rapidly move ahead with its nuclear program, and the land and submarine-launched missile capabilities with which to deliver them against targets throughout the world, (as well as the potential to sell or give these weapons to terrorist organizations or the nations that support those terrorist forces) crucial decisions will have to be made.

As North Korea continues to loudly proclaim its willingness to engage in a nuclear attack on other nations, a new concern has now been added.

During the Obama Administration, deep cuts to U.S. defenses included the White House elimination of the American ability to effectively fight a war in two separate theaters at the same time.  Recently, North Korea threatened Israel in response to statements by Israeli officials about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. The potential for actions against American allies in other parts of the world, the Middle East being the most likely, exists if the U.S. took action against North Korea’s nuclear program.  This would place the U.S. in the position of having to fight on two diverse fronts, at a time when its military is at an extremely weak state.

Additionally, President Obama’s opposition to U.S. missile defenses has left the U.S. with only minimal protection against a missile attack.  The fact that a signal nuclear blast, detonated at a precise location, could destroy, through an electromagnetic pulse, most continental U.S. electrical facilities, thus devastating the American economy, remains.

Considering that sobering fact, and the ongoing threats from North Korea, means that any attempt to destroy North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities would have to be thorough to an extraordinary degree, a feat that may wind up involving the U.S. in conflict with Chinese or Russian interests.

Dangers, Stakes of North Korean Conflict Are Vast

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government takes a two-part look at the enormous dangerous and stakes in responding to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. 

The stakes and dangers of the crisis in North Korea are significantly larger than has been discussed in the media so far. Those dangers are not restricted to North Korea’s direct actions.

The realities of the crisis are deeply worrisome.  Hopes that the United Nations could rein in Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear weapons program have been dashed.

In April, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement which noted: “”The members of the Security Council expressed their utmost concern over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance of the Security Council by conducting this ballistic missile launch in violation of its international obligations.” The move was ignored by North Korea.

38 North noted in 2016: “The evolution of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs has created a new strategic reality. In that reality, the current sanctions approach cannot lead to the denuclearization of North Korea and may not do much more to slow it.”

Contrary to public statements, it is evident that neither China nor Russia have exerted the decisive pressure they are capable of against Kim Jong-un.

There is the generally unspoken, but clearly distressing fact that Beijing and Moscow both gain from North Korea’s belligerence. It distracts from China’s unlawful aggression in the South China sea, and from Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian territory and its increased threats toward Eastern Europe. Both of those nations have also embarked on massive weapons programs, which have been jettisoned from the headlines by North Korea’s actions.

The unfortunate but all too relevant fact is that China, (while potentially suffering from a significant influx of refugees if fighting were to break out on the Korean Peninsula, and would not welcome a potential South Korean-led reunited Korean nation if in fact a U.S. led military action (or coup) successfully took place) would make major geopolitical gains if North Korea initiated a major military strike against American, Japanese, or South Korean forces in the region. Even if a U.S. led retaliation proved ultimately successful, the wearing down of those allied forces, and the inevitable exhaustion of their civilian populations, would clearly allow Beijing to fulfill its goal of becoming the nearly undisputed regional hegemon.

In the past, Russia has objected to some U.N. Security Council resolutions. China, while supporting some measures, has done so only after insisting they be watered down, rendering them useless.

While there are no direct links between Russia and China with the North Korean nuclear-capable missile program, there are disturbing ties. In February, the National Interest stated that:

“President Trump …said the U.S. has “a big, big problem” with North Korea. In fact, America may have a big, big problem with China…he needs to know where the [North Korean missile] Pukguksong-2 came from…Last August, two leading analysts—Tal Inbar, of Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, and Bruce Bechtol, of Angelo State University in Texas—noted the missile tested then looked like it was modeled on China’s JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile. Richard Fisher of the Virginia-based International Assessment and Strategy Center, in comments to the National Interest, also points out the similarities between China’s and North Korea’s SLBMs, as sub-launched missiles are known.”

The analysts quoted by the National Interest note that there is no specific evidence that either the Kremlin or Beijing directly provided the technology. They maintain that other nations that were the recipients of Russian or Chinese tech, including Iran and Pakistan, could also have provided the transfer.

That potential increases worries that North Korea could, in return, provide its nuclear technology to those nations, and, particularly in the case of Iran, to terrorist forces they support.

Several factors have become readily apparent. Diplomatic solutions have proven ineffective. North Korea is rapidly nearing the ability to blackmail any nation it chooses to with its nuclear capabilities. Pyongyang may also enable other forces wishing to harm the United States and other western nations by providing them with the weapons of mass destruction to do so.

The Report concludes tomorrow.

Danger on the Korean Peninsula includes China, Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its review of the danger on the Korean Peninsula.

The extremely uncomfortable question that remains unanswered about North Korea’s nuclear and missiles programs is why does China object to reasonable defense measures by South Korea and the United States?

The Washington Post notes, “Given how angry Beijing gets about [the U.S. anti-missile system] THAAD, you may be forgiven for thinking that the U.S. missile system, deployed to South Korea, is primarily aimed at China. However, Washington and Seoul have justified the system by saying it is necessary to defend South Korea from North Korean aggression.”

China’s semi-official newspaper, the Global Times,  proclaimed: “China has not been able to prevent THAAD from being set up in South Korea…Beijing should keep calm and adopt resolute and efficient measures to minimize its threat toward China. ..We should start from increasing sanctions toward Seoul…we can take the current opportunity to squeeze South Korean cultural products out of the Chinese market. This is the price the country must pay for the THAAD deployment. China should also focus on military countermeasures and strategically deal with more threats. The deployment of THAAD in South Korea has two consequences – it directly threatens military activities within China, moreover, it sets a precedent that Washington can arbitrarily implement its anti-missile arrangements around China. Both will jeopardize China’s security.Can we neutralize THAAD technically? Research in this field must be enforced. If possible, Beijing must realize it at all costs. One thing is for sure, China’s related strategic weapons must target South Korea’s Seongju County, where THAAD will be installed.”

The “threat” that China sees, therefore, is that it believes the THAAD system could have an application against its own growing nuclear arsenal—aimed at the U.S.

China’s complicated relations with North Korea is this: it is not bothered that the “hermit Kingdom” threatens its neighbors and the U.S. Beijing just doesn’t want the threat to prompt South Korea, Japan or the United States to strengthen regional defenses.

Russia, too, has objected to the THAAD deployment, notes Townhall: “Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that the ThAAD deployment would escalate tensions in the region: ‘Such actions, no matter how they are explained, very negatively affect global strategic security, adherence to which is so often discussed by Washington. They may also result in escalation of tensions in the region, new difficulties for resolving acute problems of the Korean Peninsula, including the task of its denuclearization.’”

While China takes public steps apparently indicating that it wishes to discourages North Korean advances in strategic weapons, it clandestinely assists those same activities. Commerce Secretary Wilbur R. Ross recently announced that China’s Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation and ZTE Kangxun Telecommunications Ltd., known collectively as ZTE, has agreed to a record-high combined civil and criminal penalty of $1.19 billion, pending approval from the courts, after illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea in violation of the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) and the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations (ITSR).

Some key observers believe there is more than a passing relationship between the technological military personnel of China and North Korea. 38 North explains:

“Some analysts are skeptical that Pyongyang could have achieved success at such an impressive rate without aid from a more technologically capable benefactor—namely, China. These analysts have noted similarities between the KN-11, North Korea’s indigenous SLBM, and the Chinese-made JL-1. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that China offered the North direct technical assistance in recent years. As Henry Kissinger once stated, Beijing is fully aware of the costs of complicity in helping advance Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. A nuclear North Korea risks the nuclearization of East Asia—most notably, Japan and South Korea. Such proliferation would shift the balance of military power in Asia, boding poorly for Chinese interests. China has, however, tolerated indirect assistance to North Korea that likely helped to accelerate its nuclear and missile program. The recent US indictment of Ma Xiaohong, the CEO of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Company, demonstrates both the scale and nature of Chinese complicity. By one estimate, the Hongxiang Group’s trade with North Korea totaled in excess of $500 million over the last five years. The concern is that the company’s subsidiaries have exported dual-use commodities with nuclear and missile applications. Beijing’s early cooperation on this matter suggests that it may not have provided direct support to Pyongyang’s weapons program and that it is willing to enforce the US Treasury Department’s sanctions against North Korean companies, at least for the time being.”

Danger on the Korean Peninsula includes China

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government takes a two-part look at the growing danger on the Korean Peninsula. 

The most basic outline of the situation on the Korean peninsula is this:

North Korea, contrary to international agreements, has developed and launched missiles capable of delivering the nation’s illegal nuclear arsenal to regional U.S. forces, U.S. allies in the region, and possibly the American homeland itself.  Its leadership openly threatens to do just that. The nation continues on an imminent war footing, starving its population while devoting vast sums to its advanced armaments programs, which it engages in with the assistance of Iran, which also is testing nuclear capable rockets. The only country with the influence to deter North Korea is China, which, instead of doing so, criticizes the U.S. for engaging in reasonable defensive measures with purely defensive technology that in no way poses a threat to either China or North Korea, except that it might prevent those nuclear weapons from killing millions of GIs and allied civilians.

Claudia Rosett, writing for Security Affairs, described North Koreas military buildup in 2014. the situation has only grown worse since then: “Not only does North Korea still qualify as one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, but as the country heads into its fourth year under the rule of Kim Jong Un, the dangers emanating from Pyongyang have continued to grow. Indeed, the threats have been expanding in such dazzling variety and abundance that it might help to sort them into three rough categories. There are the weapons programs themselves, including conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear, as well as an increasingly adept program for cyber warfare. There are the precedents—corrosive to any civilized 21st century world order—that North Korea’s regime sets for other rogue states, most notably Iran, by grossly abusing and exploiting both its own people and international rules and norms, and demonstrating that with enough threats, weapons and lies, it is possible to get away with it. And then there are North Korea’s global networks for illicit trafficking, through which the Pyongyang regime sustains itself and in some cases makes common cause with other despotisms that double as business partners, including Iran, Syria, China, Cuba and, increasingly in recent times, Pyongyang’s old patron, Russia. Put together, all this amounts to a menace that extends far beyond Northeast Asia.”

The Russian News source RT states that “the missiles [North Korea] fired toward Japan were part of an exercise targeting US military bases there…The test launches of four missiles, fired by North Korea into the Sea of Japan on Monday morning, were a drill carried out by an army unit commissioned with attacking US military bases in Japan, the country’s official news agency KCNA said…North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally supervised the drill….”

The U.S. has responded to Pyongyang’s intensive drive to develop a nuclear arsenal which they have repeatedly threatened to use by deploying the THAAD anti missile system. In July, the Pentagon stated  that “Based on recent consultations, the United States and South Korea have made an alliance decision to deploy a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense [THAAD]missile battery to U.S. Forces Korea as a defensive measure to ensure the security of South Korea and that of its people, and to protect alliance military forces from North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile threats…North Korea’s nuclear test and multiple ballistic missile tests, including the recent intermediate-range ballistic missile launches, highlight the grave threat that North Korea poses to the security and stability of South Korea as well as to the entire Asia-Pacific region…THAAD provides the ballistic missile defense system with a globally transportable, rapidly deployable capability to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles inside or outside the atmosphere during the final phase of flight…The THAAD deployment will be focused solely on North Korean nuclear and missile threats and would not be directed towards any third-party nations.” In fact, as a defense-only weapon, THAAD’s only use is to discourage a nuclear assault.

The Report concludes tomorrow

North Korea’s Ruling Party Prioritizes Nuclear Weapons

For the first time in 40 years, North Korea’s Worker’s Party, wholly subservient to Kim Jong-Un, has met. Rather than address the desperately impoverished state of the nation’s population, it concentrated on support for Kim’s policy of expanding the military’s nuclear weapons program. While the party proclaimed that it would not use atomic weapons unless “threatened,” the regime has employed that very term repeatedly over incidents that it has essentially initiated and in some cases fabricated.

Enormous strides have been made in North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities, including recent step forwards in launching submarine based nuclear missiles. Equally as worrisome, Pyongyang has engaged in proliferation of its advanced nuclear and missile technology, notably with Iran, which now, according to state organs, possesses the capability of reaching Israel and key U.S. bases with its missiles.

The U.S. Department of Defense has conveyed to Congress a report on North Korea’s military.  Of particular interest is North Korea’s heavy investment in weapons of mass destruction.  Here are the highlights:

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) remains one of the most critical security challenges for the United States and the broader international community. In particular, North Korea’s willingness to undertake provocative and destabilizing behavior, including attacks on the Republic of Korea (ROK), its continued development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and its proliferation of weapons in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) pose a serious threat to the United States, the region, and the world.

Since assuming control in December 2011, Kim Jong Un has solidified his grip on power by embracing the coercive tools used by his father and grandfather. His regime has used force and the threat of force combined with inducements to quell domestic dissent and strengthen internal security; co-opt the North Korean military and elites; develop strategic military capabilities to deter external attack; and challenge the ROK and the U.S.-ROK Alliance. In April 2013, Kim announced the “byungjin” policy, which emphasizes the parallel development of the country’s economy and nuclear weapons program, to reinforce his regime’s domestic, diplomatic, economic, and security interests.

North Korea fields a large, conventional, forward-deployed military that retains the capability to inflict serious damage on the ROK, despite significant resource shortfalls and aging hardware. The U.S.-ROK Alliance has deterred large-scale conventional attacks by maintaining a robust combined defense posture and strong military readiness. On a smaller scale, however, the DPRK has demonstrated a willingness to use military provocation to achieve national goals. In August 2015, two North Korean landmines exploded in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which seriously wounded two ROK soldiers, raised tensions on the Korean Peninsula for several weeks, and was resolved through high-level inter-Korean talks.

North Korea’s continued pursuit of nuclear technology and capabilities and development of intermediate- and long-range ballistic missile programs underscore the growing threat it poses to regional stability and U.S. national security. North Korea’s pursuit of a submarine-launched ballistic missile capability also highlights the regime’s commitment to diversifying its missile force, strengthening the missile force’s survivability, and finding new ways to coerce its neighbors. Furthermore, North Korea continues to proliferate ballistic missile technology prohibited under UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, exacerbating the security challenge for the United States and the international community.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

Nuclear Weapons. North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program, having conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. In April 2013, less than two months after its third nuclear test, North Korea promulgated a domestic “Law on Consolidating Position as a Nuclear Weapons State” to provide a legal basis for its nuclear program and another signal that it does not intend to give up its pursuit of nuclear development. The law states “the nuclear weapons of the DPRK can only be used by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean’s People’s Army (Kim Jong Un) to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.” North Korea continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure and could conduct additional nuclear tests at any time. In 2010, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that it claims is for producing fuel for a light water reactor under construction. In April 2013, North Korea announced its intent to restart and refurbish the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the nuclear reactor that had been shut down since 2007 and the uranium enrichment facility.

The director of the DPRK Atomic Energy Institute confirmed in September 2015 that all of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and reactor, were “adjusted and altered” following the April 2013 announcement and restarted for the purpose of building its nuclear force. The director also claimed that scientists and technicians were enhancing the levels of various nuclear weapons in quality and quantity.

These activities violate North Korea’s obligations under UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, contravene its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement, and increase the risk of proliferation.

Biological Weapons. DoD assesses that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons as an option, contrary to its obligations under the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC). North Korea continues to develop its biological research and development capabilities, but has yet to declare any relevant developments and has failed to provide a BWC Confidence-Building Measure declaration since 1990.

Chemical Weapons. North Korea probably has had a longstanding chemical weapons (CW) program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and likely possesses a CW stockpile. North Korea probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Missile Defense Cut as Threats Expand

The inadequate funding of America’s missile defense program (See the New York Analysis of Policy and Government’s article “Obama Opposes Missile Defense even as Threats Expand) is getting harder to justify.

President Reagan originally championed anti-missile defenses against the vast Soviet arsenal. The potential success of that program—even before significant development began—has been considered by many a factor in the belief by some in the USSR hierarchy that they could no longer compete with the U.S.  After the collapse of the Communist regime, the program seemed unnecessary.  But the meteoric rise of China’s military and the growing missile prowess of North Korea and Iran made the concept again necessary.

And of course, there is Russia.  While the current missile defense program provides no defense against Moscow’s nuclear arsenal which, for the first time in history, is larger than America’s, the Kremlin opposes the existence of this purely defensive effort, without offering any logical reason why it takes such a position. At the same time, it works against international efforts to stop the proliferation of missile technology.  Russia has blocked UN Security Council attempts to oppose Iran’s growing missile program, much the same as China has taken no significant action against North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM efforts, despite its overwhelming influence over Pyongyang.

A recent General Accounting Office  study noted that “According to the Department of Defense (DOD), protection of the United States from the threat of ballistic missile attacks is a critical national security priority.”

The FY2017 Missile Defense Agency budget request of $ 7.5 is considerably smaller than the last pre-Obama budget request of $9.3 billion, and smaller than the FY2016 request of $8.1 billion.  Strangely, as the threat increases, support for protection decreases.

In 2013, National Security expert  Loren Thompson, writing in Forbes,  observed “it is surprising to note how little money the Pentagon spends on missile defense, given the high priority of the dangers it addresses.”

Testifying before Congress in 2015, Vice Admiral J.D. Syring,  USN Director, Missile Defense Agency told the House Armed Service Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces:

“The threat continues to grow as our potential adversaries acquire a greater number of ballistic missiles, increasing their range, incorporating BMD countermeasures, and making them more complex, survivable, reliable, and accurate. Space-launch activities involve multistage systems that further the development of technologies for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition to the Taepo Dong 2 space launch vehicle/ICBM, North Korea is developing and has paraded the KN08 road-mobile ICBM and an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) capable of 2 reaching Guam and the Aleutian Islands.

“As part of a series of provocations last year, North Korea conducted multiple short- and medium-range ballistic missile launches and threatened to conduct additional longer-range launches. Today it fields hundreds of Scud and No Dong missiles that can reach U.S. forces forward deployed to the Republic of Korea and Japan.

“Iran has publicly stated it intends to launch a space launch vehicle as early as this year (2015) that could be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile ranges if configured as such. Iran also has steadily increased its ballistic missile force, deploying next-generation short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) with increasing accuracy and new submunition payloads. … Iran continues to develop more sophisticated missiles and improve the range and accuracy of current missile systems, and it has publicly demonstrated the ability to launch simultaneous salvos of multiple rockets and missiles.”

There are implications for America’s allies.

The Jerusalem Post reports that “The timing of the US cuts is regrettable as the capability of missiles developed by both Iran and North Korea is advancing and their production numbers are increasing. According to the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency overall funds earmarked for anti-missile defense will fall in 2017 by a projected 10 percent…Funding for the cooperative Israeli program will be slashed by 60% while funding for the highly effective Iron Dome system faces a 25% cut. This certainly hurts Israel, but these cuts also put South Korea and Japan at risk as those countries face off against an increasingly belligerent and technologically capable North Korea.

“Israel, with American help, has proven the investment in missile defense pays off. It should be clear to the United States and all Americans that in an increasingly dangerous world with missile proliferation rampant it is more important than ever to give our leaders more options to protect our cities and our allies.”

The Crisis that the White House Pretends Doesn’t Exist

From one end of the globe to the other, powers overtly unfriendly to the United States and its allies are substantially and rapidly building their military might.  It is a clear indication that the White House policy of unilateral reduction in defense spending combined with appeasement diplomacy has been a dismal failure.

North Korea has placed its nuclear arsenal on “standby,” and Kim Jong Un has ordered his substantial armed forces into a “pre-emptive attack mode,” according to reports by the Korean Central News Agency first as reported by the Financial Times.

In February, the White House stated, in response to North Korea’s recent nuclear threat,  that:

“This is a highly provocative act that, following its December 12 ballistic missile launch, undermines regional stability, violates North Korea’s obligations under numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions, contravenes its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks, and increases the risk of proliferation.  North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security. The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region…The danger posed by North Korea’s threatening activities warrants further swift and credible action by the international community.  The United States will also continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies. We will strengthen close coordination with allies and partners and work with our Six-Party partners, the United Nations Security Council, and other UN member states to pursue firm action.”

The President’s analysis of the situation was correct, and his plans to increase cooperation with regional allies is appropriate.  However, there is a problem with the approach:  The United States lacks the actual power-in-being to actually address the crisis.  The slashing of the defense budget during the course of the Obama Administration, and the Oval Office decision not to have an armed forces capable of fighting a two-front war renders his response little more than words.  Sanctions have failed to halt North Korea’s belligerence or nuclear progress in the past and there is no reason to assume they will do so in the future.

The President speaks of a “pivot” to Asia, which if it were real, could give Pyongyang pause.  But the pivot is just verbiage with nothing much behind it.  The diminished U.S. Navy, at less than half the strength it posed in 1990 and at its smallest level since World War I, doesn’t intimidate North Korea which rests with the Chinese sphere of influence.  China already has more submarines than the U.S., along with greater regional forces and a growing bluewater fleet that will outnumber America’s by 2020.

There is another factor, as well.  The White House’s practice of tough words followed by a lack of action demonstrates that it lacks the willpower to follow through. Think of the abandoned Red Line in Syria. The failure to avenge the Benghazi attack. The weak response to Russia’s Ukrainian invasion. The lack of action in response to Moscow’s growing presence in the Western Hemisphere.  The failure to even lodge a diplomatic protest in response to Beijing’s invasion of the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.

On the other side of the Eurasian landmass, Iran has conducted  number of forbidden ballistic missile tests, openly making  mockery of the nuclear weapons agreement before the ink has even dried on the document.  The Iranians are fully aware that North Korea cut a deal with President Clinton in the 1990’s in which $4 billion in aid was provided in response to Pyongyang’s solemn promise not to build nukes.  President Clinton did nothing in response to the violation, just as President Obama has no credible plans to respond to Tehran’s violation.

Indeed, Mr. Obama’s response to military provocations has been more appeasement. His response to Russia’s return to cold war era bases in Cuba was, strangely, to restore diplomatic relations with Havana.  He has done nothing in response to Moscow’s move to use Nicaragua as a refueling base for its nuclear Tupolev bombers.

The President doesn’t even discuss the fact that Russia, after signing the New Start treaty in 2009, now, for the first time in history, has become the world’s preeminent nuclear power. The skyrocketing growth of China’s military is also a non-topic in the Oval office.

Mr. Obama is well known for his absolute refusal to use the phrase “Islamic terrorism.” Unfortunately, his flight from reality also includes every threat to the safety of the United States, as well.  In the past, some presidents have emphasized national security more than others.  However, we have never before had a Commander in Chief who completely neglects the entire topic.

North Korea: An Analysis, Part III

The New York Analysis of Policy & Government concludes its review of the Department of Defense’s 2015 Report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea . In this segment, we examine Pyongyang’s nuclear, missile, biological, chemical and cyber warfare capabilities, as well as its proliferation of advanced weapons technology. 

Ballistic Missile Force. North Korea has several hundred short- and medium-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs and MRBMs) available for use against targets on the Korean Peninsula and Japan. A developmental intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), though untested and unreliable as a weapon, could also be launched at targets in the region.

North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program in addition to its deployed mobile theater ballistic missiles. Since early 2012, North Korea has made efforts to raise the public profile of its ballistic missile command, now called the Strategic Rocket Forces. In 2014, Kim Jong Un personally oversaw several ballistic missile launch exercises, and North Korea launched an unprecedented number of ballistic missiles. The State media covered the usually secretive events, including reporting on two launch cycles in the same week. Kim’s public emphasis of the missile force continued into 2015, when he appeared at what North Korea portrayed as the test launch of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). In late November 2015, the ROK’s Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea appeared to conduct an SLBM test but it ended in failure with no indication that the missile successfully ejected from the vessel.

North Korea is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States. Pyongyang displayed the KN08 ICBM, which it refers to as Hwasong-13, on six road-mobile transporter-erector-launchers (TEL) during military parades in 2012 and 2013. If successfully designed and developed, the KN08 likely would be capable of reaching much of the continental United States, assuming the missiles displayed are generally representative of missiles that will be fielded. However, ICBMs are extremely complex systems that require multiple flight tests to identify and correct design or manufacturing defects. Without flight tests, the KN08’s current reliability as a weapon system would be low. In October 2015, North Korea paraded four missiles on KN08 TELs. These missiles are noticeably different from those previously displayed on these TELs.

North Korea also continues to develop the TD-2, which could reach the continental United States if configured as an ICBM. In April and December 2012, North Korea conducted launches of the TD-2 configured as a SLV, which used ballistic missile technology. The April launch failed but the December launch succeeded.

Developing an SLV contributes heavily to North Korea’s long-range ballistic missile development, since the two vehicles have many shared technologies. However, a space launch does not test a reentry vehicle (RV). Without an RV capable of surviving atmospheric reentry, North Korea cannot deliver a weapon to target from an ICBM.

Advances in ballistic missile delivery systems, coupled with developments in nuclear technology

are in line with North Korea’s stated objective of being able to strike the U.S. homeland. North Korea followed its February 12, 2013 nuclear test with a campaign of media releases and authoritative public announcements reaffirming its need to counter perceived U.S. hostility with nuclear-armed ICBMs. North Korea continues to devote scarce resources to these programs, but the pace of its progress will also depend, in part, on how much technology and other aid it can acquire from other countries.

Cyberwarfare Capabilities. North Korea has an offensive cyber operations (OCO) capability. Implicated in malicious cyber activity and cyber effects operations since 2009, North Korea probably views OCO as an appealing platform from which to collect intelligence and cause disruption in South Korea and other adversaries including the United States. North Korea likely views cyber as a cost-effective, asymmetric, deniable tool that it can employ with little risk from reprisal attacks, in part because its networks are largely separated from the Internet and disruption of Internet access would have minimal impact on its economy. On November 24, 2014, North Korean cyberactors using the name “Guardians of Peace” attacked Sony Pictures Entertainment, shutting down employee access and deleting data. As a result of North Korea’s historical isolation from outside communications and influence, it is likely to use Internet infrastructure from third-party nations.

Nuclear Weapons. North Korea continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program, having conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and 2013. In April 2013, less than two months after its third nuclear test, North Korea promulgated a domestic “Law on Consolidating Position as a Nuclear Weapons State” to provide a legal basis for its nuclear program and another signal that it does not intend to give up its pursuit of nuclear development. The law states “the nuclear weapons of the DPRK can only be used by a final order of the Supreme Commander of the Korean’s People’s Army (Kim Jong Un) to repel invasion or attack from a hostile nuclear weapons state and make retaliatory strikes.” North Korea continues to invest in its nuclear infrastructure and could conduct additional nuclear tests at any time. In 2010, North Korea revealed a uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon that it claims is for producing fuel for a light water reactor under construction. In April 2013, North Korea announced its intent to restart and refurbish the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, including the nuclear reactor that had been shut down since 2007 and the uranium enrichment facility.

The director of the DPRK Atomic Energy Institute confirmed in September 2015 that all of the nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, including the uranium enrichment plant and reactor, were “adjusted and altered” following the April 2013 announcement and restarted for the purpose of building its nuclear force. The director also claimed that scientists and technicians were enhancing the levels of various nuclear weapons in quality and quantity.

These activities violate North Korea’s obligations under UNSCRs 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, contravene its commitments under the September 19, 2005 Six-Party Talks Joint Statement, and increase the risk of proliferation.

Biological Weapons. DoD assesses that North Korea may consider the use of biological weapons as an option, contrary to its obligations under the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BWC). North Korea continues to develop its biological research and development capabilities, but has yet to declare any relevant developments and has failed to provide a BWC Confidence-Building Measure declaration since 1990.

Chemical Weapons. North Korea probably has had a longstanding chemical weapons (CW) program with the capability to produce nerve, blister, blood, and choking agents and likely possesses a CW stockpile. North Korea probably could employ CW agents by modifying a variety of conventional munitions, including artillery and ballistic missiles. In addition, North Korean forces are prepared to operate in a contaminated environment; they train regularly in chemical defense operations. North Korea is not a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Proliferation. North Korea has been an exporter of conventional arms and ballistic missiles for several decades. Despite the adoption of United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) 1718, 1874, 2087, and 2094, which prohibit all weapons sales and the provision of related technical training from North Korea, the DPRK continues to market, sell, and deliver weapons-related goods and services. Weapons sales are a critical source of foreign currency for North Korea, which is unlikely to cease export activity in spite of UN Security Council sanctions; the implementation of Executive Order 13382, under which designated WMD proliferators’ access to the U.S. and global financial systems are targeted; or increased international efforts to interdict its weapons-related exports.

North Korea uses a worldwide network to facilitate arms sales activities and maintains a core, but dwindling group of recipient countries including Iran, Syria, and Burma. North Korea has exported conventional and ballistic missile-related equipment, components, materials, and technical assistance to countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Conventional weapons sales have included ammunition, small arms, artillery, armored vehicles, and SAMs.

In addition to Iran and Syria, past clients for North Korea’s ballistic missiles and associated technology have included Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Yemen. Burma has begun distancing itself from North Korea but concerns remain regarding lingering arms trade ties.

North Korea uses various methods to circumvent UNSCRs, including falsifying end-user certificates, mislabeling crates, sending cargo through multiple front companies and intermediaries, and using air cargo for deliveries of high-value and sensitive arms exports.

North Korea’s demonstrated willingness to proliferate nuclear technology remains one of our gravest concerns. North Korea provided Libya with uranium hexafluoride, the form of uranium used in the uranium enrichment process to produce fuel for nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons, via the proliferation network of Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan. North Korea also provided Syria with nuclear reactor technology until 2007.